Harsco Industrial IKG is a division of the Harsco Corporation and a leading manufacturer of metal bar grating with more than a century of experience in the industry. Its products are found in many industrial markets, covering a wide range of grating and flooring applications.
“Our company’s tagline is ‘We help build the world,’” says Chad McClendon, vice president and general manager of IKG, “and it’s true. Just about anywhere you go, you could be walking on some of our products.”
In 1902, engineer and inventor Walter Irving purchased a large lot on the East River of Long Island and opened a scrap business that he called Irving Iron Works. Eventually, he would invent and patent the very first metal grating as a ventilation product for the New York subway system, but before stumbling upon what would become his legacy, he spent a number of years producing custom wrought iron components for builders and architects. New York was growing rapidly at the turn of the nineteenth century, and Irving identified a need within the architectural community for unique ornamental items such as door latches, knockers, sconces, fireplace screens, chandeliers, and more.
It was in 1912, after a decade of experience fabricating wrought iron components, that Irving invented the singular product that would propel his company into lasting success. That year, Irving patented a reticulated steel grating that could be set into the concrete sidewalk to ventilate the New York City subway system and be walked on safely. The success of his invention was so great that Irving renamed his company to the Irving Subway Grating Company. Many years later in 1956, Marilyn Monroe would famously stand over one of Irving’s reticulated grates, creating one of the most iconic images in the history of American photography.
During the Second World War, Irving realized that his grates had applications beyond subway ventilation. He began supporting the war effort by running his plants on a continuous working schedule producing temporary landing strips that could enable P-51 Mustang fighter planes to land in areas where the terrain had previously made it impossible. Irving’s innovation played a significant role in the war, and the American military recognized his contribution with an award called the Army-Navy “E,” given to private sector companies that created military equipment and achieved excellence in production.
By the late 1960s, Irving’s patent for steel grating had expired, and competitors were entering the marketplace. In 1969, industry giant Harsco Corporation purchased Irving’s company and merged it with its two largest competitors – Kerrigan Iron Works and Gary Grating – to form a new company under the name IKG.
A fourth company, Borden, was finally acquired and merged into the organization in 1986, completing the consolidation of the largest and most successful companies in the in the steel grating marketplace. Harsco Corporation found that the merger of these four companies resulted in a much stronger entity, and in 2010, it rebranded the entire organization as Harsco Industrial IKG.
Today, IKG operates five United States locations in Houston, Texas; Birmingham, Alabama; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Fort Wayne, Indiana; and Reno, Nevada. Abroad, the company has locations in Queretaro, Mexico; Suzhou, China; and Hyderabad, India. IKG is part of the Harsco family, giving it access to a network of companies with more than 10,000 employees, operating out of 150 locations in more than thirty countries.
“A lot of companies have come and gone,” says Ken West, vice president of sales and marketing, “but IKG keeps moving along. We’ve battled the test of time over many business cycles as a result of our innovation, services, value, and creativity.”
Harsco IKG’s leadership believes that the set of core values it operates under is vital to the success of the organization. For this value system to function effectively, it must begin with a workforce that is willing to uphold it, so IKG has made a dedicated effort to develop a team that cares about the work they do and is invested in the success of the company.
By providing competitive pay, a comfortable work environment, and room for employees to grow professionally, IKG has developed a highly involved workforce. “We try to engage our employees at all the different levels of the organization,” says McClendon, “whether it’s on the shop floor or all the way up to the management team.” The company uses surveys to track things like communication, improvement, management effectiveness, and values.
The results show a high level of interaction everywhere. “They’ve proven to have a high level of participation because they know their voices will be heard. If you have good employee engagement, there’s an emotional commitment that the employee has to the company and to its goals.”
IKG is recognized as one of the premier brands in the industrial grating market when it comes to delivery, service, and value. If there is a major project that is being evaluated, IKG is typically going to be one of the top suppliers considered because of the reputation of its products. IKG steel grating is well recognized for its quality, and the company itself is known in many industries for the unrivaled service and engineering excellence that it provides. “We look to sell value,” says McClendon.
The company’s standing is the result of more than one hundred years’ worth of knowledge in developing these products. Having invented the technology, most of the expertise in competing companies has come from former IKG employees or offshoots of the company itself. Harsco IKG is the first and most well-known grating company in the world. That brand recognition is a significant differentiator.
The largest challenge for IKG currently is the volatility in the sourcing of raw materials. With the Section 232 tariffs on steel that have recently been implemented by the US government, the cost for raw material has increased significantly. Because no similar tariffs have been implemented on finished goods, American manufacturers are losing business to foreign competitors with products that can be imported for much less.
IKG is currently working with various organizations to reach the administration so that the company can voice its concerns and potentially offer counsel from a leading private sector perspective. The company is closely connected to these issues, and the leadership believes that it can provide a unique viewpoint on the regulations and policies that are being executed.
In 2016, the company won a prestigious award from the Security Industry Association (SIA) for the best new anti-terrorism product. IKG products often find applications in highly critical facilities, and this made the development of a security fencing product a natural progression for the company.
The award recognizes products that “reduce the vulnerability, risks, or consequences of threats associated with brute force attacks or other hostile actions against personnel, facilities, and critical information,” according to the SIA. IKG’s GrateGuard security fencing is fabricated from high-strength, fusion-welded steel bar and provides a substantial defense for vital infrastructure and industrial projects of any size. This award is a demonstration of the company’s high standard of quality.
Harsco Corporation is very committed to civic engagement. Every year employees volunteer thousands of hours to community endeavors. In 2017, the corporation recognized IKG providing aid following the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.
The company is preparing for future growth. It has already begun expansion into the West Coast and is planning to push further into that region shortly. Outside of North America, it plans additional growth in Latin America, expanding its global footprint. Finally, IKG is looking toward adding ancillary, added-value products and services that fit well with its current selections.
IKG has earned the confidence of customers who run some of the largest and most vital projects in the country. Whether it is in meeting a project’s schedule or in engineering the proper solution for the given need, IKG has proven continually that it is up to the task. It has the capacity, the resources, and the engineering expertise to manage projects of any size.
“What it boils down to,” says McClendon, “is that we’re known as the company they can count on. If they want to eliminate risk out of their project, they know IKG can deliver.”